Historically, West Aurora's gym is not the place for a team to try to break itself out of a funk.
Glenbard East went into the Blackhawks' lair Friday night reeling with a 1-4 record to start the season. And the Blackhawks proceeded to be rude hosts in making that 1-5 and rolling to a 64-31 victory in the DuPage Valley Conference season opener for both squads.
The Blackhawks' star players put on the after-burners, with Jontrel Walker pouring in a game-high 23 points and Roland Griffin tallying 17 points and a team-high five rebounds.
Walker, a senior guard fresh off committing to University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, showed his future suitors what he brings to the table -- an excellent outside shot and plenty of speed to slash to the basket to go along with solid defensive skills.
"We start out slow every game, and we're trying to get out of that and get a little more mature," Walker said. "Once we get into the flow of the game, we start playing harder and just keep going from there."
Griffin, a 6-4 junior forward, did most of his damage in close to the basket. He dashed any hopes Glenbard East might have had to contend by scoring all nine of his second-half points early in the third quarter to build a 47-19 lead.
West Aurora (4-1, 1-0) conjured up a solid team defensive plan to stifle the Rams, especially standout guard Jaron Hall, who was on a splendid early-season roll coming into the game. But Hall managed only 10 points, the lone Ram in double figures.
Despite Griffin's monstrous work in the third quarter, Glenbard East coach Scott Miller pointed to the end of the second quarter as the stretch that did in his team.
"There was about a three-minute stretch at the end of the second quarter, going into halftime, where on both ends of the floor we quit competing," Miller said.
"That's the problem we have right now, in being so young, we just go through stretches where we quit competing and they go on a run," Miller added.
The Blackhawks started the game misfiring from the perimeter but managed to hold a 12-9 lead after one quarter as Griffin and Walker each tallied 6 points.
When Glenbard's Patrick Peterkin put down a nifty bank shot in traffic, West Aurora led only 14-11. But it was the last time the game would be that close.
"We didn't execute really well early, but Jontrel hit a few from the outside and I think the guys were thinking we could win this game with outside shooting," West Aurora coach Gordy Kerkman said of his team's slow start.
"It took us a while, but we finally got the game under control," Kerkman added.
As the Rams had their sluggish close to the half, West Aurora took advantage with a nine-point run to open a 33-19 halftime lead. Walker hit a jump shot near the lane and a 3-pointer to go along with Matt Dunn's steal and pull-up jumper and Brandon Wyeth's baseline basket during the surge.
"At the start of the game, they were getting too many offensive rebounds, so we knew we had to pick that up," Griffin said.
"Once we picked that up, the other parts of the game started to flow better and once we realized we had to start going to the basket, that opened everything up."
The Rams, who hit only 12 of 39 shots for 31 percent, had no answer for the Blackhawks. West Aurora, which sizzled at 56 percent on 26-of-46 shooting, opened its biggest lead of the night at 64-26 in the game's closing minutes.
"Hall is our guy and is averaging almost 30, but we knew we would come into a night when he was off a little and wasn't going to be knocking down the shots," Miller said. "We'll just have to keep working and get better."
Glenbard East committed 23 turnovers in the game, while West had only 15, with three of those coming in the final minute of the game.
The Blackhawks' dominance doesn't bode well for other DuPage Valley teams venturing into West Aurora as the season moves along. Especially when considering Kerkman's philosophy about how his team will improve.
"Surprisingly enough, I don't demand a lot of role playing," Kerkman said. "I don't tell a kid he is only a rebounder and should never shoot the ball.
"As the year goes on, the team will improve as the kids realize what their strengths and weaknesses are," Kerkman added. "They will play to their strengths and improve their weaknesses."